“Did you get that?”
It was a scorching July morning on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, and a man wearing a rat mask was being filmed for the New York Department of Sanitation’s TikTok account. The plot involved Buddy the rat and an unnamed raccoon character attempting to break into a three-foot-tall garbage shed – the town’s latest weapon in its long-lost war on garbage.
The people filming nodded. They got hit.
For the city, the social media campaigns and rat-resistant trash cans are just the latest attempts to solve a century-old New York dilemma: What do you do with millions of people’s trash every day?
The city’s Clean Curbs pilot program involves a deceptively simple proposal for dealing with the bags of trash that New Yorkers often see waiting to be picked up from sidewalks and corners: put them in a trash can.
Sanitation officials placed a few sealed, rat-proof sheds for trash bags in front of businesses in late June and mid-July. There are two hangars near Times Square and two on Montague Street.
The containers are from Brooklyn-based Citibin, and more are on the way — a pilot program for residential blocks will roll out in the fall, out of Hell’s Kitchen.
“It’s not a silver bullet,” said Joshua Goodman, assistant commissioner for public affairs at the Department of Sanitation. Still, containerization — storing bags of trash in containers instead of leaving them on the sidewalk to pick them up — could make streets and sidewalks cleaner. The city is therefore currently conducting a test in the five boroughs.
“We are moving forward with a $1.3 million plan to pilot ferries of various types and configurations,” Mr. Goodman said. “And that means both the bin itself as well as what’s inside and how it’s maintained.”
Experimenting with ways to fight litter is nothing new. An article published in The New York Times in August 1873 listed specific blocks that were “unclean with street filth, trash, and garbage.”
Almost a century later, in 1967, a headline in The Times declared that “the city is fighting a losing battle against streets littered with trash and trash.”
In its endless battle against waste, the city has faced protests and strikes, as well as job cuts in the sanitation department, while trying to improve its weapons in the fight: by 1961, she gave scooters to sanitation workers so they could hunt down “bugs”, as reported at the time by an up-and-coming writer in his twenties named Gay Talese. In 1969, the city began putting garbage in plastic bags; a few years later it introduced new, supposedly better trash cans.
Yet the problems persisted. Even New York’s recycling program has proven difficult to manage at times.
For Clean Curbs, the city has issued specifications for the type of container to be used, and so far the sheds made by Citibin are the ones being tested. Among other requirements, containers must be non-flammable and fully enclosed, and they must not obstruct fire hydrants or walkways. Citibins are available in several sizes, with different numbers of lockable doors.
Recently, the New York Post reported that one of the trash cans in Times Square was dumping garbage juice onto the street. “Adjustments continue throughout the pilot. That’s what a pilot is,” said Liz Picarazzi, Founder and CEO of Citibin. Everything from the screws and latches to the leveling feet are tested and refined, and the design is modular. The trash can located on West 41st Street has already had its doors replaced.
There are so many challenges. “It shows in many ways that New York is not more difficult than other cities, but just different,” Mr. Goodman said. “And why you can’t necessarily just copy-paste what’s out there.”
The sewerage department has approximately 10,000 employees, making it the largest municipal waste haulage agency in the country. Each worker lifts approximately 10 tons of waste or recycling per day. Working for the department is one of the most dangerous jobs in town. Lifting and throwing trash bags has physical consequences, and about once a month, Mr. Goodman said, a sanitation worker is threatened or assaulted. Then there are the horns of impatient drivers stuck behind garbage collection trucks.
A pilot program like Clean Curbs has many variables. Mr. Goodman posed some of the many questions associated with placing garbage in a container for collection: How big should the container be? Can it withstand the weather all year round? Who is responsible for digging it up after a snowstorm? Does the container work with the city’s garbage collection procedures or do changes need to be made? Should the shed doors open to the street or should they roll up? Are combination locks the way to go? What about key locks?
After answering these questions, you then need to consider what people actually throw away.
“I would be curious to do a litter audit and see what exactly is in those bins,” said Anna Sacks, an environmental activist and litter expert who posts on TikTok as The Trashwalker.
Ms Sacks said she would like to see pavements cleared of bin bags, but she had some concerns about the container proposal. She expects the pilot’s bins to contain mostly “single-use disposable coffee cups, for example. This highlights the need for reuse. You should have these reusable cup systems.
Additionally, Ms. Sacks wondered about New Yorkers surviving on what’s left at the curb. “We need to think about the impact on people who make a living buying back the cans,” she said.
Ms Sacks, whose videos often detail the food, clothes and electronics being discarded by shops and schools, was also concerned about the second-hand economy. If containerization spreads throughout New York City, she said, “items usable on the sidewalk will no longer be accessible.”
“I just didn’t understand how it was going to work on a large scale.
Many commercial buildings, especially high-rise buildings, generate far more waste than can possibly fit into a regular four-door Citibin. Mr. Goodman said the city would encourage commercial properties to explore containerization or store waste in a basement or on a loading dock before pickup, instead of the curb.
The Sanitation Department also plans to require residences and businesses to take the bags out later in the day — 8 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. — to minimize the number of hours rats have been there. access.
As the pilot continues, containers may start to spawn on more and more blocks around town. Neighborhoods with Business Improvement Districts would have bags from street trash baskets contained in a Citibin prior to pickup, and on some residential streets, property owners and superintendents may opt for a mid-block trash can.
Back on Montague Street one recent morning, the Citibin was ready for service.
It had four waist-high doors and two planters, each with brightly colored blooming flowers.
A sanitary truck rolled and two workers got out. They unlocked the four padlocks, opened all the doors and quickly removed the bags of trash inside, throwing them into the back of a white collection truck.
One bag had a small tear and some mystery liquid leaked onto the sidewalk. The workers turned back to the shed and locked the doors, one by one.
For a few seconds, a workman fumbled with the padlock, his bulky gloves making it difficult to get a good grip. But soon the two men were back in the truck and driving down the street, with only a piece of watermelon rind oozing out.
Afterwards, Djana Hughes, who is employed by the Montague Street Business Improvement District, approached the Citibin with a broom and dustpan to tidy up. As she swept around the back of the shed, she made an alarming sound: “Oh!”
Using the broom and dustpan as tongs, she pulled a dead rat, whose chubby body was easily a foot long, from under the shed and threw it into the plastic wheelie bin she had. thrust. The rat did not enter the Citibin, but died trying.